Jim Bakker in Branson, Missouri
SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — Televangelist Jim Bakker is trying to sell condos and cabins at his Morningside development near Branson.
To sweeten his sales pitch, Bakker — who spent five years in prison after being convicted of fraud in 1989 — claimed that the Ozark mountains in southwest Missouri are the safest place to live, ostensibly for when the apocalypse comes.
On an episode of his show, which aired on May 1, Bakker said: "You're not going to live in downtown Chicago and survive the coming day. ... Where are you going to go when the world's on fire? Where are you going to go? This place is for God's people and this place, we need some farmers to move here."
The Jim Bakker Show is filmed at Morningside, a Christian-themed residential community built by Branson developer Jerry Crawford.
Morningside's grand opening was held in 2009. It had been pitched as a Christian retreat — designed for the faithful — with Bakker as the "anchor tenant."
On the recent episode, Bakker described Morningside as "a little bit" outside of Branson, which he credited with having "the No. 1 Christian theater in the world — Sight and Sound."
The white-haired televangelist was dressed in a sporty blue hoodie and a white baseball cap with a cross design.
"I tell you what, you all are going to know soon why God brought us here," Bakker said. "Did you know people from the government, from NASA, research from so many of them — they have said in their research, the safest place to live in troubled times is right here?"
A spokeswoman for NASA said she was not familiar with any research from her organization that might fit with Bakker's claim.
"That doesn't sound like something we would do," the NASA spokeswoman said.
A request for comment left with Bakker's show was not returned.
The episode of the Jim Bakker Show featured photos of rustic wood cabins and condo units. In addition to hawking land, Bakker also advertised water bottles with filters (six for $150) and buckets of preserved food (a six-gallon "basic bucket" retails for $125 and contains 273 servings of "warm and delicious comfort food" with a shelf life of 25 years).
A member of the audience led a prayer for those who wanted to purchase property at Morningside: "God, you cause their homes to sell wherever they're at, that finances come to them so that they’re able to come and be able to purchase and buy and move in and have a part of this ministry."
According to the show's website, condo rentals begin at $70 a night, with an additional fee for cleaning. It's unclear how much it would cost to purchase one. A voicemail message left with the number listed for information about condo sales was not returned.
Bakker, founder of North Carolina-based Praise the Lord Ministries, resigned in 1987 after admitting to a 1980 sex-and-cover-up scandal with his former church secretary, Jessica Hahn. Hahn had alleged that Bakker raped her; Bakker said the sex was consensual.
Later that year, the Springfield-based Assemblies of God's national Executive Presbytery investigated and dismissed Bakker for "conduct unbecoming to a minister."
In 1989, Bakker was convicted of fraud and conspiracy for bilking followers of millions of dollars that he put to his own personal use. Some of those convictions were later overturned, and Bakker ended up serving five years of the original 45-year sentence.
The charges stemmed, in part, from the misappropriation of money from followers who bought time shares at Bakker's South Carolina Christian-based resort and amusement park called Heritage Village.
While Bakker was in prison, his childhood sweetheart and wife of 30 years, Tammy Faye, divorced him and married his best friend.
After serving time, Bakker lived in Los Angeles. That's where he met his current wife, Lori Bakker.
The couple, along with five adopted children, settled in Branson in 2002.